This is a spoiler free preview for the upcoming new show from BBC America, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, based on Douglas Adams‘ two novels about the detective with an unusual method of solving cases. The show premieres this Saturday on October 22nd.
There will be two distinct groups who watch the newest adaptation of Dirk Gently, the holistic detective that believes in the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things,” and depending on which group you belong to might greatly impact how you feel about the show.
The first group will be viewers that have never read any of Douglas Adams’ books, not The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy five-part trilogy, nor his two Dirk Gently books that this show is based on. What those people will find is a fantastic universe where not only can anything happen at any time, but it does, resulting in an engaging and complex mystery, one that is seemingly violent and horrible, but is lighthearted and exciting.
Because the best reason to adapt Dirk Gently into a show is that he exists in a world where nothing is off limits. Time, space, the supernatural, the unnatural, the weird, the absurd, and the even more absurd, happen all the time. It’s a totally liberating premise, which means it isn’t bound by any formula that might arise simply from the need to be logical and make sense. The fun is in how little sense it makes while you are experiencing it, and in knowing you can never guess what will happen in the very next second. Viewers that are getting their first look at what Adams created will find total mayhem, and plenty of intentional confusion, and that means they got a huge — maybe the most important — part of this adaptation right.
If nothing else the show is interesting, adding to and doubling down on the strangeness that opens the series, a bloodbath in a hotel room that finds the victims bitten in half by what appears to be a large creature of some sort. From there it just gets weirder, with the murder and a kidnapping being the driving mysteries for all of the other even weirder mysteries that make the bigger interconnected story.
The number of moving parts through the first three episodes is staggering, with few answers given, all while more questions are constantly being raised. Dirk’s belief that everything in the universe is connected is right, so it means any time you see any character or sign or object, even briefly, it probably will matter later. A dog showing up repeatedly might as well be carrying Chekhov’s gun. Eagle-eyed viewers are going to have a lot of fun between episodes trying to piece together all of the clues.
This first group of viewers also won’t have any preconceived notions about what Dirk Gently himself should be like, and this is where the real divide will come between the two groups. Because book readers of Dirk Gently, and that includes myself, are probably going to have some problems with this iteration of the character, played by Samuel Barnett.
It’s not Barnett’s fault, he’s certainly a captivating presence, full of boundless energy and and a real force of nature in the story, but he is annoying. Really annoying. And not like the type of annoying Dirk is in the novels, where his methods are maddening and confusing; Barnett’s Dirk is annoying because he won’t shut up, and he’s very needy. This is not the Dirk of the books — aloof, frustrated, and strangely confident in himself — this Dirk is sad and in need of a friend to tell him he’s doing a good job.
Adaptations are just that, and don’t need to copy the book entirely to be successful (often the most successful adaptations don’t), but Dirk’s incessant chatter and need for approval are grating. Fortunately, Barnett manages to make him likable in spite of the character’s personality, otherwise it would go from annoying to exhausting, which is a bad place for a character to be. Odds are book readers, who are likely to be die-hard Adams’ fans, will have to overcome the drastic changes to Dirk’s personality (and probably won’t care for a backstory that seems designed to explain his “powers”).
But even readers will enjoy the intricate and absurd mystery being told. While the show isn’t as laugh out loud funny as Adam’s novels (that’s a tough standard to live up to anyway), it does have lots of fun with itself and doesn’t go more than a moment without a joke or funny line. One of the many groupings within the strands of the story (and really, there are so, so many), is an assassin that has the exact same view of the world as Dirk–and a desire to see him dead. When that assassin kidnaps someone and they go out in to the world together, it leads to some of the funniest scenes.
Also, Elijah Wood, who is really the show’s lead as Todd, the frustrated man whose life seems to be at the literal center of the mystery, and who reluctantly accepts working with Dirk to solve it, is great. As is his sister Amanda, played Hannah Marks, who has a rare (equally as weird as everything else on the show) disease that makes her reliant on Todd.
By the end of the third episode, I was used to this Dirk. I still wish I could completely eliminate the aspect of the show giving him a backstory, but I felt bad for him and his desire to have a friend. Making us care more about the characters on an emotional level isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The best thing about the show (which looks great), is that no matter the expectations you bring to it, you’ll be invested in unraveling the many layers to solve its mystery — just like when you read an Adams novel. The mystery is fun, the story is fun, and the characters are fun. That means both groups of viewers will be getting a Douglas Adams experience.
It’s just that one group is going to learn that Dirk Gently is annoying, and the other group is going to be annoyed by this Dirk Gently. So if you fall in that second group, just try to take a holistic approach to the adaptation instead of a literal one.
What are you hoping to see with this series? What do you bring to it? Fresh eyes or a love for the novels? Talk about it with us in the comments.
3.5 holistic burritos out of 5
Images: BBC America